13 Communication Mistakes Leaders Make

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: June 24, 2016

Communication is an art. Some of the greatest leaders in history are revered for their ability to not only inspire others with their words but also their ability to truly listen to their team. Horrible bosses, on the other hand, have a tendency to make their team feel inadequate, undervalued and neglected.

Related: 12 Things All Effective Leaders Do

Have you ever taken a step back from your daily grind to self-assess your communication skills? We asked the Young Entrepreneur Council, “What’s one off-putting conversational habit that leaders need to stop doing?” for common red flags.

So if you find yourself thinking, I’ve done that or I’ve said this, don’t freak out. It just means it’s time to adjust your tone, body language and style to ensure your team feels valued and appreciated, and to commit to being more authentic and respectful.

1. Forgetting to Get Personal

It’s so much easier to get things done in business when the connection has first been made as humans. There are times to talk about business and times to talk about life. Know the difference and you’ll experience the true magic of connection.

Erin Weed, evoso inc.

2. Speaking at Instead of to Others

Leaders like to talk about themselves. Self-confidence is a requirement as a leader, but unfortunately, it can often translate to not having truly authentic conversations with people. Take a step back to recognize that conversations go two ways. It’s OK to talk about your achievements, but make sure you’re also showing an interest in the person you’re talking to and truly listening.

—Brandon Houston, Switch Video

3. Thinking of Your Response Before People Finish Speaking

It is human nature to want to be heard and understood. As leaders, we tend to run through conversations and seek solutions while others are speaking. This might be an expeditious way to go through conversations quickly, but it’s not a method that allows the speaker to feel they are being heard. Take the time to slow down and truly listen; you might learn something new.

—Rahim Charania, American Fueling Systems

4. Using Body Language That Contradicts Your Words

Many leaders don’t watch their body language, which might be standoffish. For example, a leader might ask for honest feedback, but a puffed out chest with arms crossed won’t be conducive to getting honest feedback.

—Jeremy Goldman, Firebrand Group

5. Avoiding Eye Contact

Being present and keeping eye contact with your clients, staff or vendors is always more important than the email you need to write or phone call you need to return. Your present mind is the most valuable asset you have. Calm your racing thoughts by using a meditation app like Headspace, where you can create room to be present, keep eye contact and really hear what others are saying.

—Kim Kaupe, ZinePak

6. Racing to the End

We’re primed to believe the first thing we hear no matter what follows. So, when you’re under extreme time pressure and surrounded by smart people, it’s easy to race to conclusions. Leaders need to stop “racing to the end” of a conversation and be present in the moment. It’s amazing how much faster everyone moves when this happens.

—Alexandra Skey, Ella

7. Speaking From a Script

Communication is a key part of leadership, so leaders often have canned responses meant to ensure quick and consistent messaging. However, giving the same spiel to an employee as you would a journalist is a mistake. People can tell when you’re not giving them thoughtful answers, and it can make you seem disingenuous. Be sincere and candid whenever you can and people will return the favor.

—Ismael Wrixen, FE International

8. Being Accommodating Rather Than Honest

Leaders need to be direct in their conversations. When leaders let being agreeable and accommodating get in the way of what they really need to say, they become less effective. Being direct, to-the-point and honest is the most effective conversational strategy for leaders.

—Matthew Weinberg, Vector Media Group

9. Interrupting

Too often, I notice people in leadership positions interrupt or excitedly jump in before letting the speaker finish. There needs to be a time when team members are encouraged to state their own opinions. Some of the best ideas are uncovered by sharing unique expertise and individual insights, but you have to let the person speaking finish their thought if you want to have a real conversation.

—Jon Tsourakis, Revital Agency, LLC

10. Saying “I” Instead of “We”

Being a leader is about representing your team. By that very nature, you should be speaking on behalf of your team, not yourself. This will show that you value your team and that it’s your company’s collective opinion, rather than your personal opinion.

—Andy Karuza, FenSens

11. Using Jargon

Jargon has its place, but I’m a firm believer ideas can be communicated simply, concisely and elegantly. There’s no need to litter your conversation with clichéd, inelegant and meaningless verbiage that hinders understanding and clear communication. It doesn’t make you look intelligent; it makes you look like you’re hiding a lack of originality and understanding behind a façade of pseudo-smarts.

—Vik Patel, Future Hosting

12. Asking Team Members If They “Understand”

It’s easy to turn a good habit into a bad one. Asking team members if they “understand” what you’re trying to communicate can be effective if communicating a new idea, but asking them if they understand what are normal, everyday tasks can come off as patronizing at best and condescending at worst.

—Nathan Hale, First American Merchant

13. Complaining

A leader should not complain. The law of attraction is always at work and one negative complaint can quickly spiral downward. Complaints do not solve problems; cooperation does.

—Andy Eastes, SkuVault

Related: 9 Things Good Leaders Never Say

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.